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In Defense of the WTF-ness of Games

A few years ago I ran across a Korean FPS called Nitro Family which at the time declared “the weirdest FPS ever” in part because part of the premise is that you play a man who is carrying around his wife on his back and when you fill up your meter you can shoot your wife into the air and she will rain down destruction on the enemies.

Well, since that time, however, I’ve played a few other games that certainly give Nitro Family a run for its money. For example there’s ZPC which uses the Marathon 2 engine and has graphics seemingly designed to cause seizures and make you ask, “WTF?”:

Then there’s You Are Empty which reminded me of Half-Life 2 but with zombie nurses. Then you get to one of the art-film-like cut scenes and once again “WTF?” comes to mind:

You Are Empty seems positively normal compared to the premise of Operation Matriarchy which looks like it uses the Quake 1 engine and has the following WTF backstory:

A planet-wide epidemic caused by an extraterrestrial virus totally changed all women of the planet of Velian. Their bodies transformed to become parts of collective intelligence, presumably controlled by some non-humanoid creatures. The Velian men proved to be resistant to the virus, but they lost their status of free intelligent beings and only existed as suppliers of biomaterial for further gene experimentation and as parts of complex biomechanical systems. The society became now a kind of matriarchal hive.
The Galactic Federation lost several dozens of transports due to enemy attacks in the second half of the 24th century. A deep analysis of the situation made it clear that the aggressor comes from the Velian star system. It is there that the Federation is sending an expeditionary corps to destroy the hostile civilization that threatens the very existence of the human race and to investigate the fate of the missing colonists.
You are a trooper of the government army sent with the expeditionary force to attack Velian. As you accomplish missions given to you at the headquarters, you get new opportunities in selection of weapons and military equipment. Each mission will also get you closer to the secret of the origin of the Velian anomaly of the human race.

The most recent game that made me exclaim, “WTF?” is Venus Hostage. Venus Hostage starts with you playing a man who meets a blind date who you promptly have R-rated sex complete with polygonal bare breasts. You get knocked out and then spend the rest of the game trying to escape from a bunch of leather clad guys who look like they were modeled after The Gimp in Pulp Fiction and solving like one of the Penumbra games.

Playing these games got me to thinking about the kinds of games that the gaming community tends to heap praise on and how these games certainly aren’t among them. They are weird, buggy, bizarre, and frequently not even that much fun. And yet they were created by people who were trying to do something different, something unique.

Especially when it comes to First-Person Shooters, we often complain about how so many games seem copying each other. With all the Modern Battle of Honor games out there it is easy to have that mentality. So when a game like Nitro Family or Operation Matriarchy comes along I think it should get a bit more attention than it deserves — the kind of attention that some of the more obviously arty games get.

The notion of “affect” is one that is gets used by a lot of academics these days. I’m not an expert in affect. I’ve had long conversations with colleagues about what exactly affect is and I’m still not entirely sure. I don’t know why I play these games. Maybe it is some kind of affect, I don’t know.

What I do know is that these games do have something that makes me say, “WTF?” and I, for one, am going to embrace that.

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